The closest my queer relationship has ever felt to a sitcom-like heterosexual one is when we try to talk about sport. I was raised with three brothers in a sports-mad family; two of my brothers became professional boxers, and I became a professional lesbian. There was never any other destiny for me.
I was raised in Queensland, so the beautiful game is in my veins, and by “beautiful game” I mean of course Rugby League. Some sports have easier off-field antics to support than others, and my interests diversified, especially as women started to be allowed to play sports publicly for our enjoyment.
My girlfriend is not a snob about sports nor is she a “sportsball” person (yes, I know some of you are reading). She has played sports, but has zero relationship to them otherwise, especially as a viewer. As bewildering and unfamiliar it is to my life, she just has never connected with sports as a spectator and as such has simply paid them no mind.
She supports my interests, but we have been together for several years and she still is not quite sure which football is which. Recently when I was talking to a friend about a game she asked, “is that the one with the grand final?” It has been a cute and funny bit that we do together, but has never become deeper than that – until 1 October 2023.
I am pretty level-headed when it comes to being a sports fan. I swear a lot during the game, and I am a bit sad or happy depending on the result, but I don’t get heaps emotional and I don’t dwell (my girlfriend may disagree with this part).
Unfortunately, I was already having a hard week at the start of October when two of my favourite teams – the Brisbane Broncos and the Brisbane Lions – each played in their respective grand finals. Having two of your teams in different codes get into their grand final on the same weekend is an incredibly rare event, like some sort of bogan eclipse.
I am a pessimist, and especially a sports pessimist, but I thought that surely one of my teams would have to win! I would get a boost, and feel the type of happiness that only comes when some big burly people win a trophy for throwing a ball around best. Unfortunately, not only did the Brisbane Broncos and Brisbane Lions both go on to lose their grand finals, they both lost in specifically heartbreaking ways.
After I suffered a second brutal defeat, I was upset. The depth of emotion it’s possible to feel about sport is surprising. My (lovely) girlfriend tried to console me as best she could, and said things like “They both got into the grand final, that’s amazing!” and “They did so well, you should be proud!”
This is such a non-sports fan sitcom wife thing to say. Yes, she is technically correct. Yes, that is the positive read. They did do great to get there! I AM proud of them. But this is where the difference between a sports fan and non-sports fan came to the surface. It’s hard to explain the irrational feelings that can happen when you barrack for a team, but seeing a lost grand final as an overall victory is a feeling that can only come after going through all the stages of grief – and even then, maybe never.
I do not claim it is rational. I realised in fact it is – probably fairly – not something my girlfriend can really wrap her head around, as someone who has never been moved by sport and whose father taught her “the real losers are the ones who didn’t show up for the race” (she lost lots of races).
She can’t fully understand the feelings I can have about a game, just as I couldn’t fully understand hers when she cried for three days straight after watching Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
This is not a column about how I solved a difference with my partner; I’m not writing this from the other side of this debate. It is still ongoing, like the Matildas v France World Cup penalty shootout. But we support each other. I have been using the Matildas to begin slowly chipping away at her, like a lesbian chisel, successfully getting her somewhat engaged in the Women’s World Cup via the Matildas documentary series.
Once she cared about the players as people, she got more on board with their efforts, but she still just half-watches and waves to Mary Fowler and says “go girls” and wishes the best for her new friends.
It is progress. But I don’t expect that I will be able to get her invested in any of the Brisbane Broncos any time soon. Last weekend we both got a break when the mighty Brisbane Lions won the AFLW competition; I finally got to experience a happy result, and my girlfriend got to experience me experiencing a happy result. She was pleased for me, but ultimately also can’t fully grasp the highs of being a sports fan either.
It might be that this is just a part of our relationship that we will always be on slightly different pages about, and that’s OK. She is supportive of my interests, and I have other sports friends I can talk to who can console and celebrate with me. It might be that we come to understand each other more through our interests, or it might be that one day I build myself a man cave to disappear into and she complains about me to her mother, like every good sitcom couple.
• Rebecca Shaw is a writer based in Sydney